SFFILM Festival Spotlights #1

by Chad Liffmann on March 17, 2017

(Films #1-#10 of Chad’s goal of seeing 60 films to commemorate SF Film Festival’s 60th anniversary! #60for60th)

The SF Film Festival is back and celebrating its 60th year! It’ll be taking place at venues in San Francisco and the East Bay from April 5-19. Once again, Spinning Platters is thrilled to provide you extensive coverage of the films, special events, and award ceremonies. Check back here frequently, or follow along at our Facebook page and on Twitter (or follow film critics Carrie Kahn- @CKCinephile / Chad Liffmann- @chadcarsten). Without further ado, let’s take a look at ten titles:

A Date for Mad Mary
(Ireland 2016, 82 min; in English)

Tara Lee and Seána Kerslake in Darren Thornton’s A DATE FOR MAD MARY, playing at the 60th San Francisco International Film Festival, April 5 – April 19, 2017.

I loved A Date for Mad Mary! It’s a funny, heartfelt, coming-of-age comedy filled with real characters and even realer interactions. Adapted from a stage play, the script by Darren Thornton and his brother Colin is clever and well-balanced, dealing with serious subject matters (bullying, prison, sexual identity) while also poking fun at classic comedy targets like dating, weddings, and sex. Throughout the story, complex emotions are expressed in subtle and delightfully informal ways. The cast is a powerhouse of strong Irish actresses, led by Seána Kerslake in a star making turn as the ostracized Mary. Bring a date to see A Date for Mad Mary, since it’s destined to be the feel-good sleeper hit of the year.

(click here for tickets)

  • Sunday, April 9th, 6:00 pm, BAMPFA
  • Saturday, April 15th, 7:00 pm, Alamo Drafthouse

By the Time it Gets Dark
(Thailand/France/Netherlands/Qatar 2016, 105 min; Thai with English subtitles)

A scene from Anocha Suwichakornpong’s BY THE TIME IT GETS DARK, playing at the 60th San Francisco International Film Festival, April 5 – April 19, 2017.

Using quiet, observational, but delirious filmmaking, By the Time it Gets Dark director Anocha Suwichakornpong captures the lingering trauma due to the 1977 government-sanctioned massacre of student protesters in Bangkok. Characters switch identities, scenes depicting a fictional film production about the massacre seem real at first before their staging is revealed, and other scenes play out multiple times through featuring different players. The result is a stylized yet deliberately paced and twisted mental journey symbolizing the distortion felt in Thailand after this historical tragedy.

(click here for tickets)

  • Thursday, April 6th, 8:30 pm, YBCA Screening Room
  • Thursday, April 13th, 9:15 pm, Alamo Drafthouse
  • Sunday, April 16th, 2:30 pm, YBCA Screening Room

The Cage Fighter
(USA 2017, 82 min; in English)

A scene from Jeff Unay’s documentary THE CAGE FIGHTER, playing at the 60th San Francisco International Film Festival, April 5 – 19, 2017

The Cage Fighter is an unsettling documentary about Joe Carman, a blue-collar worker and mixed-martial arts fighter who continuously promises his wife and four kids that he’ll stop fighting, yet never follows through. In aggravating sequences, we bear witness to the generational family dysfunction as Joe fights against repressed masculinity and childhood trauma instilled from his own rocky upbringing, mostly due to his abusive father. Beautifully shot and bruising in its honesty, The Cage Fighter is an unflinching portrait of a scarred man engaged in a deeply torturous pursuit to prove an objectively selfish level of self worth.

(click here for tickets)

  • Friday, April 7th, 6:00 pm, SFMOMA
  • Monday, April 10th, 3:30 pm, Victoria Theatre
  • Thursday, April 13th, 9:30 pm, SFMOMA

Score: A Film Music Documentary
(USA 2016, 93 min; in English)

A still from SCORE: A FILM MUSIC DOCUMENTARY, playing at the 60th San Francisco International Film Festival, April 5-19, 2017.

Score: A Film Music Documentary is a film music lover’s dream! For me, someone who used to collect film scores and listen to them non-stop and curate film score playlists, this is a truly fascinating inside look at the process, impact, and influential players of the film music industry. Score touches on pivotal moments in film music history, from the Lumiere brothers to the Wurlitzer organs used in silent pictures, to King Kong‘s game-changing orchestral score, to the most influential scores from some of the biggest players in film music history: Barry, Morricone, Williams, Herrmann, Goldsmith, and Elfman. Featuring interviews and behind-the-scenes footage, and, of course, phenomenal music, this is one doc you don’t want to miss!

(click here for tickets)

  • Sunday, April 9th, 1:00 pm, Dolby Cinema
  • Tuesday, April 11th, 3:00 pm, SFMOMA
  • Monday, April 17th, 8:30 pm, Victoria Theatre

Hotel Salvation
(India 2016, 99 min; Hindi with English subtitles)

A scene from HOTEL SALVATION, screening at the 60th San Francisco International Film Festival, April 5-19, 2017.

Hotel Salvation is a beautiful film about bridging generational divides and achieving happiness in life. The story revolves around Daya (Lalit Behl), who, upon envisioning his death in a dream, has his son Rajiv (Adil Hussain) take him to a special hotel in the holy city of Varanasi, where it’s common for the residents to pass away during their stay. Hotel Salvation is Shubhashish Bhutiani’s feature debut, and he shows here a promising ability to blend discussions of death with lightweight humor and heart. The film is moving and also trying; in each of the characters, we see part of ourselves, and thus the journey of self-discovery is taken both onscreen and off.

(click here for tickets)

  • Thursday, April 6th, 3:00 pm, SFMOMA
  • Friday, April 7th, 8:15 pm, Roxie Theatre

The Death of Louis XIV
(France/Portugal/Spain 2016, 115 min; French with English subtitles)

A scene from Albert Serra’s THE DEATH OF LOUIS XIV, playing at the 60th San Francisco International Film Festival, April 5 – April 19, 2017.

In true chamber drama form, The Death of Louis XIV is confined to only a few locations, primarily a bed chamber. Legendary actor Jean-Pierre Leaud (The 400 Blows) gives a brilliant performance as King Louis XIV, “The Sun King”, during his final sickly bed-ridden days. Within the first few minutes, there is a powerful moment in which Louis says goodbye to his loving dogs, and we can see he feels the weight of his deteriorating health rushing upon him. The costumes are intricate and the production design is immaculate. The story moves at a slow pace, but even the long-lasting silent moments are incredibly powerful. Many written entries exist from the time describing King Louis’s passing in detail, and the film dives into the medical procedures and health care of the time, which left a lot to be desired, to say the least.

(click here for tickets)

  • Thursday, April 6th, 8:30 pm, BAMPFA
  • Saturday, April 8th, 8:30 pm, YBCA Screening Room
  • Wednesday, April 12th, 1:30 pm, YBCA Screening Room

California Dreams
(USA 2017, 85 min; in English)

A scene from CALIFORNIA DREAMS, playing at the 60th San Francisco International Film Festival, April 5-19, 2017.

Part documentary and part narrative satire, California Dreams tells the story of five actors trying to break into the Hollywood scene. They live within reach of Los Angeles, geographically speaking, somewhere between the downtown Hollywood glitz and the stark Mojave Desert. Yet, the actors couldn’t seem more distanced. California Dreams is at times soul crushing and other times inspiring, as we primarily follow Cory (Cory Zacharia), a young man who struggles to find the funds to fly out for a role offered to him in Germany, while also working to support his mother. I recognized shades of Napoleon Dynamite’s influence throughout the sequences of auditions and private discussions of sexual experiences, but the true-to-life nature of the characters’ seemingly unachievable dreams gives the film an extra emotional and saddening boost.

(click here for tickets)

  • Tuesday, April 11th, 8:30 pm, Roxie Theatre
  • Wednesday, April 12th, 4:00 pm, Roxie Theatre
  • Sunday, April 16th, 8:30 pm, YBCA Screening Room

(USA/Philippines 2017, 94 min; Filipino with English subtitles)

A scene from MOTHERLAND, playing at the 60th San Francisco International Film Festival, April 5-19, 2017.

Motherland is an inside look at the patients and procedures of Dr. Jose Fabella Memorial Hospital, a maternal and newborn hospital in Manila. As we see the hundreds of mothers who are having their first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, etc. child, we see the effects of systemic poverty, and a lack of education and family services. We are treated to an intimate look at a place and situation that most of us are fortunate enough not to know first-hand. Husbands and wives are unable to pay for the proper treatment, or even the transportation to and from the hospital, and we watch as the nurses instruct again and again to unprepared mothers how to best care for their (sometimes prematurely birthed) babies. The film can be hard to watch, but it also serves as a conduit by which we can gain more insight into the world beyond our borders.

(click here for tickets)

  • Thursday, April 6th, 6:00 pm, YBCA Screening Room
  • Saturday, April 8th, 7:30 pm, Roxie Theatre

(USA 2017, 80 min; in English)

A scene from Travis Mathews’s DISCREET, playing at the 60th San Francisco International Film Festival, April 5 – 19, 2017.

Discreet instills a strong sensory experience into the dark journey of our traumatized protagonist, Alex (Jonny Mars), a victim of childhood sexual abuse and torment. A quick return home leads Alex to a chance opportunity to exact revenge on his childhood tormenter. Bordering on pretentious but captivating in its risk-taking nature, director Travis Mathews (Interior. Leather Bar.) brings a relevancy to this dark tale, surrounding it in today’s current socio-political climate through radio broadcasts and the constant fear of non-traditional masculinity. Discreet is uncomfortably sexual and unafraid to challenge our notions of the emerging emotional demons being born in the midst of the Trump administration.

(click here for tickets)

  • Saturday, April 8th, 9:00 pm, Castro Theatre

Heal the Living
(France/Belgium 2016, 104 min; French with English subtitles)

A scene from HEAL THE LIVING, playing at the 60th San Francisco International Film Festival, April 5-19, 2017.

Heal the Living is a very interesting movie. Enjoyable, too. I thought it was heading in one direction, and it swung in a completely different direction, but in a good way. It’s a medical drama featuring stunning, surreal cinematography and strong performances. Bring some tissues, though, because Heal the Living is full of familial tragedies and broken hearts. Ultimately, however, the interconnecting stories all touch on the healing process — emotional and physical — and beg the question, what is a life worth?

(click here for tickets)

  • Monday, April 10th, 9:00 pm, Victoria Theatre
  • Wednesday, April 19th, 6:00 pm, Alamo Drafthouse


The 60th San Francisco International Film Festival runs from April 5th through April 19th.

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